Call to Common Mission—5th Anniversary Celebration

Phyllis Anderson—February 19, 2006
ELCA Southwest California Synod & Pacifica Synod
Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

Ephesians 4:1-6
John 17:15-23

We gather today for a celebration! As Lutherans and Episcopalians, we give thanks for the gift of unity that we experience in this service. It is a gift that you enjoy in the ministries you share here in Southern California and Hawaii, a gift that you receive as you learn from one another and grow wiser in the faith, a gift you honor in your prayers for each other, a gift you share with the world as a sign of peace in a divided world.

We gather not only to celebrate our unity as Episcopalians and Lutherans but to pray for the unity of the whole church. We pattern our prayer after the prayer of Jesus, that his followers might be one. He prays for unity among his small circle of disciples. He prays not only for them, but also for all those who will come to believe through their word, that they may be one as he and the Father are one. Jesus prays for the ever expanding circle of men and women, young and old, of every race and culture through every generation who are being incorporated into his body, the Church.

And the prayers of Jesus do not go unanswered. I like to think when Jesus prays—and when we pray—for the unity of the church, we are not praying that unity might happen, as though it didn’t exist. We are not praying for the power to make it happen ourselves, as though it was something we had to build. We pray for the Thing itself that we are all part of—for the one church that has already been created, for the unity that is God’s gift to us, for the unity that is the necessary consequence of all of us being baptized into one body, for the unity that is reinforced when we drink from one cup and one loaf. We pray for a unity we already believe in, as we confess week after week in the Nicene Creed. “We believe in ONE, holy, catholic, apostolic church. Week after week in the Kyrie we pray “for the peace of the whole world, the well-being of the Church of God, and the unity of all.” We pray in a spirit of longing and thanksgiving. It is a way of aligning ourselves with what God is already doing. It is a commitment to be stewards of that unity, to make it more and more visible to the world.

That’s what we did five years ago. In the Call to Common Mission, we recognized our unity. We agreed to remove the barriers that we had allowed to separate us. We agreed to do everything we could to reinforce that unity, to take care of it, to enjoy it, to celebrate it, to be enriched by it, to let it show, to let it shine!

So five years later, how are we doing? There is much to celebrate. I hear wonderful reports of ELCA pastors serving in Episcopal ministries in Hawaii and Garden Grove and an Episcopal priest serving a Lutheran congregation in Pasadena. Musicians from both traditions come together in one training program. Many parishes have covenants that involve them in joint worship services and outreach ministries. The Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee met on the campuses of the Episcopal and the Lutheran seminaries in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, and they seemed to be moving along very nicely ironing out remaining issues—like the one about deacons. Are they exchangeable?

While we all work on opening up more possibilities for our coming together, I am most interested in pressing to be sure that we are getting the full benefit of these precious relationships we already have. Ecumenism is meant to change us, to renew us, to open us up to new ways of seeing our churches and our faith and our God. Our unity is not just a matter of having permission to cooperate. It’s not just about the convenience of plugging pastoral vacancies with someone from the other side who is almost as good as our own. It is about renewal!

To realize the full potential of our full communion, we will need to go deeper than we have. We will need to practice new disciplines. We will need to cultivate mutual curiosity with respect. We will need to learn to approach each other with radical hospitality, the kind of hospitality that expects to be enriched by the stranger.

CCM became up-close and personal for me when my husband, a life long Lutheran, a pastor and a seminary professor, accepted a call to be on the pastoral staff of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. He served in that capacity for three years. During that time we participated in extraordinary liturgies week after week. We received a warm welcome and many kindnesses. We learned about the in’s and out’s of the Episcopal world, from the vantage point of being part of the family—almost. It was a privilege to learn about another tradition and to learn to love it.

Herbert fit in so well, that after three years many very active members of the cathedral community found it hard to believe that he wasn’t an Episcopalian. The highest form of praise they could give was: “You presided like a real Episcopalian.”

So while the experience was very rich for us, I’m afraid it may have been less rich for the congregation. He did all the accommodation. They did not consciously experience what was different because they had a priest who was Lutheran. There was no real occasion to explore the differences, to discover what we might learn from one another, what distinctive gifts we could share with one another.

What a shame. There is so much to learn. As a Lutheran I am very quick—probably too quick—to say that all we need is the “gospel”, that fundamental affirmation that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, and all the rest is adiaphora or non-essential. For Episcopalians, form matters. The form of the liturgy matters. The structures of governance matter. It matters when you use chrism oil and when you use unction oil. I need to check my Lutheran impulse to say: oil is oil. Rather than judging one another for our differences, we need to be curious about how our different ways sustain faith differently.

Curiosity and mutual respect are important because they open the way to giving and receiving the gifts that come with these traditions. Listen again to the agreement in Called to Common Mission. “We do not seek to remake the other but rather to be open to the gifts of the other.” We do not lose our gifts when we share them with others. Nor are we disloyal to our own tradition when we receive the gifts of others.

We learned so much from our time at St Marks for which I am grateful. I am grateful that there is a denomination that is willing to embrace a wide diversity of faith expression, be open to people who are searching, willing to live with ambiguity. I am also glad for Lutheran theological rigor and the deep conviction of Lutherans that what we believe matters. I learned about prayer in new ways from my Episcopal friends. I learned how much the Eucharist can bear for people. As a Lutheran, I also know what it is like to expect that God will do great things through the preaching of the Word.

I was invited to preach several times at St. Marks. When the worship leaders gathered for prayer before processing in, the presider would regularly pray that God would be revealed in the faces of the people, in the prayers, and in the bread and wine. I wanted to scream: “What about “in the preaching of the Word”? That’s what Lutherans would pray. That’s what I needed right then. Wouldn’t that have made an interesting conversation? Wouldn’t we have learned at a deeper level how we understand God and how God comes to us? We never went there.

It’s time to have those conversations. We’re family now. We can ask one another—with curiosity and respect—why do you do it that way? What does it mean? What do you really believe? Here’s what we do and here’s why it matters. You will be renewed by entering into such conversations.

Perhaps my husband and I could have been more assertive in suggesting contributions from the Lutheran side, but we, after all, were guests. We need to be invited to give our gifts. We all need to learn how to be better hosts. Ecumenical exchange requires radical hospitality, the kind that draws out the guest. The best kind of host is the one who not only welcomes the stranger, but does so with an air of expectation, creating a space where the stranger can open up and share his unique perspective, her special gift.

Let me close with a story about an experience of radical hospitality that changed both me and my husband. We enjoyed a sabbatical leave in England, in 1982. We lived in the rectory of St. Mary’s parish in Shincliffe, a charming village outside of Durham. We were welcomed as the rector’s family. We were included in many activities in the village and at the Cathedral. I was a newly ordained woman, several years before women were ordained in England. So I was a bit of a curiosity.

That probably contributed to our being invited to a private luncheon with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey and his wife. It was an entirely remarkable event. They had invited just the two of us and they served us themselves—no servants. For two hours Lord and Lady Ramsey invited us to talk about our home in Dubuque, Iowa; about the little seminary where my husband taught; about politics in the Midwest; about church life among Lutherans; about my parish and what it was like to be an ordained woman.

I had brought what seems now like a very silly hostess gift: hand-painted note cards with scenes from Dubuque. Who could possibly care? Lady Ramsey did. She wanted me to explain each picture in the pack and listened carefully, asking leading questions. When Herb and I left their home, we felt like we were just about the most clever and interesting people imaginable. We had walked a couple of blocks down the Bailey, before it dawned on us that the magic had very little to do with us, and everything to do with the Ramsey’s and their remarkable, radical hospitality. Their curiosity and respect made us shine. We were richer by far. And they made us feel like they were too.

Radical hospitality is the soul of ecumenism. Radical hospitality is very near to the core of the Gospel. It is the way God is with us. I t is how we are with one another when we are at our best. Radical hospitality is the way we must grow if we are going to realize the full promise of our Call to Common Mission. Through open, humble, expectant hospitality, we receive the gift of unity for which Jesus prayed. We also receive the fullness and the diversity of gifts that are hidden in our particular traditions. Through embracing these gifts, we become more fully the Church God longs to see.